(Previously posted on my cleveland.com blog, The Last Cleveland)
In 2007, Sports Illustrated ran a special issue with the city of Cleveland as its subject. In the magazine were articles from previous issues about Cleveland, great Cleveland teams, and great Cleveland athletes. On the cover: Jim Brown and LeBron James. The past and the present: the legend who represented the greatness of old, and the young man destined to return Cleveland there.
There were articles about the special kind of suffering Cleveland fans have faced since 1964, the last time we won a professional championship in any sport. The moments have been well documented. Alas, the magazine claimed, do not lament Cleveland fans! Your teams are on the rise. We know what you have gone through, but just look – you made the ALCS, the Browns went 10-6, and of course you have LeBron James! The future is quite bright indeed!
As I read this magazine at the time I immediately knew, as any other well-knowing Cleveland fan would, and anyone else who knows Cleveland sports well, that doom was on the horizon. The Browns went 4-12 in 2008 and couldn’t get more than 6 wins since, the Indians haven’t been back to the playoffs since, and LeBron…
If you are a person who doesn’t know Cleveland fans, or Cleveland sports well, take a trip on the internet and do a little research. We have faced countless losses these past 48 years: losses that defy explanation, that have dropped us to our knees like a punch to the liver, that turn our lights out in a flash like a punch to the jaw. If the city of Cleveland were a boxer, it would be the punch-drunk old prizefighter, far past his prime. The man who is a fighter to the core. Always was, always will be. The man who had a prime so long ago it’s forgotten by everyone else but him. The man who still can remember, in his brief periods of clarity, the times when he faced another man, ate his best shots, hit him clean, sent him to the ground, and watched the other man get counted down. A man who still remembers his arm being raised, and even wakes up some times at night with his arm in the air. The man who has a family that is afraid for him, that tells him to stop fighting. He doesn’t have it anymore. If he gets in that ring again, he’ll most certainly get killed this time. The man who can’t help himself from getting back up, and fighting one more time, believing that if he can just get…one…shot, one clean punch through, on the button, he can raise his hand one last time.
Only he finds himself on the canvas again…again…and again. Every time. Sometimes he wakes up staring into the lights above him, considering whether or not he is dead. Sometimes he gets hit with that body shot, that perfect body shot that makes his body quit but leaves his brain clear. Clear so he can hear the ten count, and do nothing to stop it. Every time the man gets in that ring, he is sure to be knocked out spectacularly, and yet – every time he steps in the ring, he steps in with a hope. A hope he has alone.
Cleveland is that man. Cleveland fans especially are that man. We’ve seen every kind of loss imaginable. The Browns are most assuredly going 6-10 basically every year, yet when training camp rolls around, there is a fever in the air. That hope rises up again, and we truly believe it is our year. Until LeBron wins his championship with the Heat, we truly believe we will win one first, and not because Gilbert said we would. I personally believe the Indians will win the World Series this year. We’re in second place right now, and so what if the White Sox are streaking, there are eight billion games left! We can take them!
It is most likely we won’t win the World Series this year though. Nor will we win the Super Bowl (never been to one), or the NBA title…next year. So what do we have to look forward to? What do Cleveland fans cheer for?
Cleveland fans cheer for competition. They cheer for the clarity, the beauty of the sport. They cheer just to cheer. They find reasons to cheer for someone and against someone else. They cheer for perfection; for imperfection. They cheer to hear themselves be heard somewhere, and sometimes…they cheer to be a little spiteful. They can cheer for anarchy and chaos.
Cleveland fans are not overly spiteful, or envious of others’ successes. They do, however, enjoy cheering for the failures of overexposed, overrated teams. They cheer for the underdog KOing the champ. A head KO may be exciting; the body KO, however, is far more pleasing. Body KO’s are preferred. Cleveland fans have had so many, it’s only fair to heap it upon others when they are so blatantly calling for it. Then, once the dust has settled, the Cleveland fan can offer empathy only they know.
Cleveland fans only feel truly empathetic when an underdog feels that feeling. When Butler, for instance, played inexplicable, remarkable team basketball on their cinderella run through the NCAA tournament last year, only to have to fully experience their worst game ever when they needed it the least. Butler and its fans shared the body blow that night – the realization of the impossibility of their accomplishment, how it felt to know it wasn’t their night, be knocked to a knee from the very beginning, and try in vain the rest of the game to get back up. That game was one long ten count for Butler.
But oh, when that happens to the Yankees…the Red Sox…the Phillies…The Tigers…or the Lakers…the Heat…the Eagles…the Steelers…the Ravens…
Cleveland fans revel in it. We enjoy the soul being sucked out of them, and the mad scramble that ensues.
I apologize for the level of vitriol in the previous statement. Let me take a few steps back and reel this one in…
Like I said before, Cleveland does not run on spite or others’ successes and failures.
Cleveland fans enjoy the spectacle of those franchises and their pain not because we don’t win, and we want them to feel our pain. The Steelers will never know what the Browns have gone through. Pittsburgh can’t know what we know. Neither can Chicago, Philadelphia. Especially not Los Angeles or New York, or Boston.
San Diego hasn’t won in the same span, but they’re expansion teams compared to us. They didn’t have a history of winning and watch that disappear, yet to come back.
Philadelphia had the 76ers. In 1983. And yet, Philadelphia fans are treated with a level of respect and reverence I can’t understand. They are obnoxious, rude, selfish and loud, but all I hear is how great and “passionate” they are as fans. It reminds me of how, growing up in an Italian family, the loudest uncles are the most respected. It doesn’t matter the awful things they say, or how they treat their wives, that’s just treated by the rest of the family as lovable character traits, quirks. So what if Philly fans booed Santa Claus, and ran Donovan McNabb out of town for a whole decade? They’re just passionate. That’s just who they are.
As for Chicago, and the Cubs…for the love of all that is holy: stop it. Stop it right now. The Cubs haven’t won since 1908. So what? The Bears won in 1985. Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan. x6. White Sox? 2005? I just wish some of those people in Chicago, who are Cubs fans, would have some perspective.
Cleveland fans have been waiting patiently since 1964 for something good. In 2007 hope was stronger than ever. Now, in 2012, nothing has changed. All the teams stink,and Cleveland fans still have hope. I mean, all the Indians have to do is get in the Playoffs, and maybe they make a run like the Cardinals; the Browns had a good draft this year, and Brandon Weeden has been impressing at training camp; Kyrie Irving is a stud for the Cavs, now they just need to build around him.
Like an old prizefighter well past his glory days, Cleveland fans love the game that made them who they are. The countless shots they have taken over the years will mean nothing when they finally get that one clean punch to break through and win, one last time.
And, as always, Cleveland fans know that whatever has been taken away from them is insignificant compared to their love for the game itself. They cheer because they love to.